Yesterday I did something I haven’t done in well over 20 years. I went skating. I realized some weeks ago that if this project was going to move forward, it might not be a bad idea to get my skating legs back underneath me. So into the basement I went and I found my skates in busted box. I was thankful that my cats didn’t use it to….nevermind. To my surprise the boots weren’t bad, but the blades had a fair amount of rust on them. Just as I did in days long past, it only took a visit to “Cooke’s” to get them in relative working order.
It seemed oddly fitting that on my first day back on the ice after two decades my first coach Denise Marco, who normally doesn’t teach on Saturday, was there. Not only is Denise the Executive Director of Northstar Ice Sports but she will be playing Elizabeth Rogers in Serpentine with one of her star students playing Suzanne Wilson.
I remember the days in the late 1970s when my mother would drive me to Denise’s house at 5 in the morning (we lived in the same town) to ride with her to the rink for a 6 AM skate before school. Who possibly could have thought that we would reunite in 2016 to make a movie!
What’s also fitting about the Serpentine project is the number of people from First World and Justice Is Mind that will be joining this production. While this will be a great reunion, there’s some terrific new actors and crew members that have joined Serpentine. My plan is to still formally announce the project by October 1.
As of this moment, there are just about 30 people involved in Serpentine. And this is just a short film. I remember with Justice Is Mind, when all was said and done, that number was just over 200. Producing a film is no easy feat. From scheduling to organizing to execution, it is not for the faint at heart. But what it does require is a commitment. And not a lackadaisical one.
I know of so many that want to be part of the industry but they seek instant gratification or worse fame. This industry is about hard work, consistency, sacrifice and dedication. Each project builds some sort of value for the next. It all has to start somewhere. Did I ever think that those first days on the ice decades ago and that first high school play would lead to being on a network TV show or directing films? We can’t predict the future, but we can plan the present.
As for the present, it looks like a great conference room for our last needed location has come forward. The phrase “Location. Location. Location” is often used in real estate. The same holds true in filmmaking. For me, once the locations are secured, I start to visualize the story from script to screen.
With the crew coming together and over 100 actor submissions this past week, pre-production on Serpentine is moving along. With Northstar Ice Sports confirmed along with a private residence, the last location I’m working on is a conference room that will serve as an FBI meeting. Filming dates have gone out for one of the last days in October to the first few in November. To say there are a thousand details when putting together a film is an understatement.
When Justice Is Mind formally went into pre-production in May of 2012 I had three months to organize what ultimately became securing 15 locations via trade arrangements, 100 plus actors and a crew of over 17. Thankfully every star in the universe lined up correctly and those that worked on the project went above and beyond the call of duty. But make no mistake about it, there were issues that came up. Things that needed to be dealt with on a day to day basis. There’s no such thing as a perfect world in filmmaking but resilience and innovation has always been the key.
The one thing that I always find rewarding about this process are those that come out wanting to help. For First World it was the securing of a horse farm, for Evidence it was being allowed to film in a house, for Justice Is Mind it was the LAST MINUTE securing of an MRI center, for Serpentine it was an ice rink. As a filmmaker the one thing that drives us all forward is enthusiasm. Nobody is saying you have to come to set with pom poms and break out into a cheer, but there should be the want to create and be part of something. To quote the IMDb videos, there are “No small parts”.
What I have learned over my twenty years of experience is that everything we do in this industry is cumulative. Some parts are small, some are starring roles. Some parts pay extremely well, some cover gas (maybe). But when you put them all together it’s what you call a body of work.
All my work resulted in the production of Justice Is Mind. This past week I was reminded about the many theatrical screenings we had for my “freshman” feature. When I look at the pictures of us from those screenings and recall the work and dedication of so many, it’s events like those that make the journey all the more worthwhile. Yes, making a film takes time, dedication and resources, but it’s knowing what you create will far far exceed the time to produce it in the first place.
As for time, today I looked at the past 12 weeks of minutes watched on Amazon. When my three films have been watched for over 120,000 minutes in that period it further justifies what I do as a storyteller and filmmaker. While making a film is exciting, the joy comes in those that watch it.
Setting up a new project like Serpentine is one of details. It starts with the script where you generally write in isolation. But when you make the decision to produce, that’s when a film takes on an entirely new dimension as it becomes project management with location partners, crew, actors and a variety of other participants.
This past week the location for the ice rink was confirmed along with the actors that will play Suzanne Wilson and her coach Elizabeth Rogers. The latter has a great backstory that I will soon share. Let’s just say that my experience in figure skating has come full circle from the time I first set foot on the ice.
Certain other actors have been confirmed along with crew. Over the next several days the aim is to confirm the rest of the crew while posting for actors and securing the final two locations. My plan is to formally announce the cast, crew and location partners via press release by October 1. Should our plans stay on track, the goal is to start principal photography at the end of October.
Like Justice Is Mind, and somewhat with SOS United States, when I started to write Serpentine my aim was always to produce the project. While it certainly helped that I had a background in the sport, when one decides to produce it’s a commitment. One that starts long before and long after the production wraps. Serpentine started in January 2016 and will continue long into 2017 and well into 2018 and beyond should the feature move forward. There are no shortcuts in this industry.
I’m reminded of this commitment every day with First World, Justice Is Mind and SOS United States. With First World and Justice Is Mind released, there is the regular social media and general promotion. Both are doing extremely well on Amazon Prime in all their territories while SOS United States is still being reviewed by a production company (one that regularly produces).
Filmmaking is not like the old Ron Popeil motto of “Set it, and forget it!” once a film is completed. Promotion, in the age of VOD, is ongoing. Take this week for example, Justice Is Mind just arrived on TubiTV. As all of us associated with Justice Is Mind are reminded, four years ago this month we were filming and yet the project continues to reach new audiences through platforms like TubiTV. Platforms that didn’t exist when we were filming Justice Is Mind.
TubiTV reminds me of Hulu in its early days. It’s an advertiser supported VOD platform that doesn’t require a monthly or annual membership like Netflix (or Amazon for Prime). What’s important in the world of film distribution is to give audiences as many choices as possible on how, when and where they want to watch a film. Today, three years after release, Justice Is Mind can be watched on your TV, computer, tablet, smartphone and an array of other devices and platforms.
Speaking of platforms of a different nature, it looks like after twenty years I’ll need to get my skating legs underneath me again for Serpentine.
With posts for crew on New England Film, Stage 32 and the official website (casting for actors to follow soon), the Serpentine project is moving forward. While it’s always great to work with new people, I naturally reached out to those I’ve worked with on Justice Is Mind and First World. As so many of us see in this industry, it’s about established relationships while expanding your network. Yes, there are those I have worked with for years, while I know there will be new people I’ll meet thought this project.
So while I work on establishing a crew and securing locations based on a general idea of when we are going to shoot, there is the casting of the skater to play Suzanne Wilson. This is unlike any other actor I have ever cast. Not only does this skater have to have a “nationals” or “worlds” quality, but there is also the interest and ability to act along with necessary enthusiasm of making a film.
As one elite skater I talked with this past week rightly asked, “How long does this take to film?” As this skater has been a part of a nationals and has competed internationally, sure they have seen TV cameras. But that’s a one take show. I explained the wide, mid, close and insert shots. The camera angles, lighting, sound and, depending on a variety of factors, several takes of the same scene (personally I don’t believe in more than four). In short, it can be a bit overwhelming for a novice as it is a repetitive process.
While the “Search for Suzanne” continues, my advice to anyone that wants to get involved in this industry is to visit a set. Perhaps the easiest way to get involved is to submit to student films at local colleges that offer film programs (they always need people). Some say to be an extra in a “big movie” but I don’t agree with that as the nuances of the process are lost when you are part of a cattle call. Student films can be a lot of fun and a real eye opener. Just remember as they are student films it can very much be learn as you go and the end result can vary widely and wildly. I’ve been involved in some excellent student films and others that I will never post!
But as they say it has to start somewhere. My first TV appearance was on The Montel Williams Show in 1994. A very nice production assistant knew it was my first time on TV and pretty much told me what to expect in terms of the process. I promise you, the more you see the process the more things you pick up. After a while you learn what everyone does and why they do it.
Speaking of acting, one of my favorite museums Battleship Cove hosted a World War II event yesterday with various exhibits and reenactors. Not only is it a great history lesson, but the passion these actors have for their craft are truly Tony worthy.